Category Archives: Personal

Women in Film

In the university at which I am currently employed, Trinity College Dublin, some enterprising staff have organised a free course titled ‘Women in Film’. Over ten weeks or so, academic enthusiasts present a film each week which they feel illuminates that theme. I proposed two, hoping that one might be chosen, but both were accepted and then found myself filling in a gap for an indisposed colleague to make it three – this blog is derived from my notes and presentation to the audiences.

women-in-film

I saw the first two of these three films in the same weekend just before Christmas 2015 by complete chance:

  •   ‘Woman in Gold’ at the Little Baddow film club in Essex, England – I went to meet and help my friends with the event;
  •   ‘Camille Redouble’ at the French Town Twinning Association in Brentwood Essex – I was their technician!

In each case, I had no part in the choice nor any knowledge beforehand of what I was to see, but I felt they both had interesting concerns about being a woman, addressing lifetime change and exploring the contradictions between past potential and present condition.

The third ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’ is perhaps the film I most enjoy of all films, having first seen it perhaps twenty years ago – the chance to show it at short notice was willingly seized.

Woman in Gold

Screened 28th January 2016

In ‘Woman in Gold’, Helen Mirren plays a strong older woman lead, telling the story of someone who has lived through some of the most wicked acts of the 20th century – the Kristallnacht and consequent theft of Jewish assets, and the flight of Jews from Nazi persecution and death.

The film has mixed reviews.

My reaction was a certain sense of misguided moral compass – what is the meaning of ownership of great works of art and is it properly answered by this film?

Did this film pass the Bechdel test? –  “at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man”? The test is claimed to be an indicator for the active presence of women in films and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction due to sexism. I didn’t spot it, despite the film featuring at least three strong women.

Finally, is it enough for a film to be carried by a first class actor, offering a compelling and exciting characterisation?

Camille Redouble

Screened 11th February 2016

Camille Redouble’, directed and starring Noémie Lvovsky, follows a familiar plot device of time transport back to teenage years and reappraisal of life based on the re-confrontation with earlier life decisions and events.

‘Peggy Sue Got Married ‘, ‘Big’ and 200 other films, according to Wikipedia, feature time loops or travel, so this is a well-worn path.

But, typical of french film, the story is told more naturally, humorously but not forced and ends in a more interesting and realistic manner. I felt it relevant to the Women in Film series because it didn’t portray women in the way Hollywood so often does.

Does this film pass the Bechdel test? It did, but it also certainly passed the ‘Millwood test’ for a good film  – ‘did I like any character and begin to care about them’ – I liked them all.

Trois couleurs: Bleu

Screened 25th February 2016

Trois couleurs: Bleu’ forms the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy ‘Trois Couleurs’, which addresses the French flag and motto – liberté, égalité, fraternité. Bleu‘s theme is liberté. Colin McCabe, in a Criterion Collection essay proposes that

“…what Kieslowski had achieved in these films marked a cross-fertilization of the two great postwar European cinemas that could never be surpassed. He  had composed the hymn to Europe…”.

But Kieslowski’s purpose is not to pursue politics, instead it is to explore the interleaving of human lives, coincidences, and the individual challenges faced in overcoming great tragedy. In this sense, ‘Bleu’ has a lot in common with both ‘Woman in Gold’ and ‘Camille Redouble’

It begins with a car crash, setting an unbearable challenge to Julie (Juliette Binoche) as she encounters a disastrous form of liberté, shaped by one question : how to continue living when all ties are broken.

Filmed with remarkable cinematography, thrilling music and a delightful, sparse intensity, the story addresses some of the accommodations women must confront due to significant loss, discovered adultery, maternity, sexual promiscuity, a fractured relationship, Alzheimers and a musical Matilda Effect (the systematic repression and denial of the contribution of woman scientists in research, whose work is often attributed to their male colleagues). As Julie navigates these issues, her growing generosity and engagement with creativity and life is uplifting, and the ending is deeply moving with its vital optimism and hymn to enduring love.

A theme which is explored throughout Kieslowski’s trilogy, is the reunification of Europe. The connection between Poland and France, at that time perhaps the leading nations in art cinema, is personified by Juliette Binoche herself who has Polish origins. I find it hard to recall just how things were in the early ’90s, when such countries were only recently reconnected after being on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain for forty years or so, but I did feel excitement.  In ‘Bleu’ the choral music is an anthem to the unified European ideal, which was so vitalising and influential at the time of the film’s making in 1993. In a parallel with the negotiation involved in making a new Europe, the process of composition to complete the music takes place in the film itself.

All this is sadly apposite in the current circumstances of ‘Brexit’ inspired by Little Englanders in my own home country of England. For me, as a committed European, the unutterable loss that Julie endures, and overcomes, is perhaps a metaphor for my own prospective loss with an impending referendum on leaving the EU, all thanks to that other car crash known as Cameron and his Conservative cronies.

Juliette Binoche

What about Juliette Binoche? It is hard for me to guess how others, men and women, react to her, but for me she is without compare, not for her sexuality, but for her powerful sense of moral compass and serene beauty. Her own discussion about involvement in the making of the film touches on a central concern for women actors – how is the film to portray women’s position? Binoche, in her discussion about the possibility of gratuitous nudity, says: “You feel like an object. You no longer feel like a subject”, explaining how the media so often misinterpret her acting as a result. And yet she is generally content to see her body used as a vehicle for communicating the director’s intent. With “Bleu” she describes a happy and relaxed relationship with Kieslowski, who seems to be concerned that she does not suffer indignities, even reportedly flying into a rage when Binoche proposes to cut her knuckles for one rather harrowing scene.

Binoche-Gyllenhaal

Just two nights before showing ‘Bleu’, by chance, I watched Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Demolition’ as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. ‘Demolition’ arguably parallels much in ‘Bleu’, starting with a car crash which kills Gyllenhaal’s partner, but with a quite different sensibility and rather less ambition. Indeed ‘Demolition’ might well fit into a ‘Men in Film’ course: the camera lingers on Gyllenhaal’s face and body for much of the time, but I suspect the media will see it as great acting rather than exploitation of his undoubtedly handsome face and body!

In both films, in truth, I didn’t once doubt the director’s intent – to make the best possible use of the sophisticated collaboration between actors, crew and director, and their profound artistry.

I recommend all these (films, directors, actors and crew) to you without reservation and thank the organisers of the Women in Film series for the opportunity to indulge myself. The opportunities and coincidences that lead to this particular set coming together would have had Kieslowski smiling.

Heaven

On Friday, I left my meeting in London and set off from Liverpool Street Station to Essex (the only way is Essex, I live in Brentwood).

“It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.”

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I didn’t get out at my usual stop, but instead the train continued towards Southend and I disembarked (thanks Sasha) at Southend Airport.

Had I fallen asleep on the journey? Was I in a dream?

I got on a plane to Dublin and found myself inveigled into a secret-service plot to surprise my friend Boyd for his birthday. A black limousine met me at the airport with good friend, colleague and Boyd’s partner Eileen and Tom ‘No. 1 son’, who whisked me to a pub to mark time with Eileen’s old friends (and a Guinness). Then we collected Zac ‘Besty’ (George Best? Animal? or simply the best?) and finally we hid in Findlater in Howth to await the birthday boy. Hosted by Sabine, we enjoyed a fantastic sea-food skillet and laughed and lived our love of family. Aoife offers me a bed for the night and she and I have a cracking conversation long past my bed time.

A very good dream indeed.

Saturday, like in all my best dreams, was spent at a stimulating Association of Teachers’ / Education Centres’ numeracy conference, re-connecting with Eileen Two and meeting the vibrant Dolores Corcoran (where were you Elizabeth?). I guess I should have been suspicious of the conference title – ‘Does it All Add Up?’

Later the birthday party continued with Boyd and Eileen’s neighbours and friends – more cracking conversation and such warm, good people.

Boyd's birthday

Boyd blows out the candles watched by Eileen, Tom and Chantal

Food from Joan (now known as Jo-an-issima) was spot-on, with the shiniest cutlery and glasses. Sing-songs and good company. Shared a brilliant falling star with Aoife and I had to be taken home by the delightful Nessa. It’s not usual to sleep in dreams and I didn’t sleep much before Sunday morning. On waking to a dawn over Dublin Bay, I am off in another limo, to the airport, to fly to London Gatwick.

Dublin Bay

Dublin Bay and Howth at dawn

I then enter another level of dream – ‘in transit’ – like the novel by Brigid Brophy, that I marvelled at as teenager. Vana arrives and we work on categorising future trends in TEL before a flight to Turin, Italy.

We meet Katherine, who drives us to Pollenzo in Bra, to L’Agenzia di Pollenzo ‘si fa in quattro’ the international headquarters of ‘slow food’. The ‘quattro’ are our hotel Albergo dell’Agenzia also housing Guido Ristorante Pollenzo, the Banco Vino (wine bank) and best of all, the University degli  Studi Scienze Gastronomische (University of Gastronomic Sciences) – “the first academic institution to offer an interdisciplinary approach to food studies”. The whole campus is built on part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of King Carlo Alberto’s 1835  Savoy Estate, which in turn is built on the Roman town of Pollentia.

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

Universita degli Studi Gastronomische

I sit down to dinner with Vana and Katherine:

antipasto – Sformato di verdure con crema di Roccaverano

primo – Tajarin al sugo di salsicca di Bra

secondo – Brasato al Barolo con patate al forno

dolce – Panna Cotta

with a powerful Barbaresco from close by, and we speak all night of creativity.

wine and panna cotta

Barbaresco wine from the local region and Panna Cotta

In this heavenly dream, I wonder how did I deserve or manage such a dreamy, surreally wicked dream weekend, at such times in higher education…

“…with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures” ?

from the The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan)

I began to realise, unlike the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, who doesn’t know he is in hell, that I must be in heaven and that I passed in my sleep on the train from Liverpool Street.

 

Old lobster almost boiled

Learning on the Beach 2011

The second annual Learning on the Beach unconference #lob11 has just scattered – I am blown away, boiled, invigorated and inundated – and that was just the weather. We were a self-select group of ‘old lobsters’ like me @richardmillwood and some fresh faces like @squiggle7 – the value of this mix in challenging the norms of indoor education was enormous.

Activities included:

  • a scene setter on flat-lining and free-learning from John Davitt
  • collaborative presentations by teams of participants on themes (and genre) as diverse as Irish History (sing-song), The Salt Marsh (tragedy) and Tides (rap)
  • a tour of the beach with Seán and Matthew to understand the nurturing approach to the ‘machair’ or sand dunes found on the west coast of Ireland and particularly in Mulranny, where we were staying
  • the Explainer Olympics – a chance to hone with a sharp stick in the sand our skills in capturing a concept
  • a Ceilidh to let it rip -thanks to Jim and Ann, @angedav @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @magsamond @johndavitt
  • Postcards from the Edge, scribed on the beach – to let us shout about our findings
  • thoughts to challenge suppliers – what do we need to support learning outdoors in the design of equipment and infrastructure? Peter at @westnet_ie made it possible for us to connect from the beaches around Mulranny so that we could benefit from our vast array of gadgetry to support our inquiry including TouchaTag an RFID technology, but there were many issues addressed regarding weatherproofing, robustness, daylight viewing and power supply that would enhance outdoor activity anywhere
  • hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold plunge and swimming pool – four facilities that were welcome 😉
  • the sharing of Guinness, Google, kindness, camera-derie, Twitter, time, humour and happiness ( to say nothing of black and white pudding, fresh air and fine rain)

There are not enough wild sea-horses to hold me back from attending #lob12  – I already miss the lobsters: @squiggle7 @magsamond @JamiePortman @mlovatt1 @andyjb @dughall @VickiMcC @johnmayo @johndavitt @angedav @katherinedavitt @timrylands @sarahneild @susanbanister

A Short History Offline

Becta have just published the article they commissioned me to write about the history of educational computing. I enjoyed writing it – after all, I have been very active in the field since 1977, so much of it is from the heart.

1989 - planning multimedia on a chalk board
Alan Edis, Richard Millwood, David Riley & Colin Smith of the Computers in the Curriculum Project plan a multimedia CD-ROM on a chalk board in 1989 at Kings College London

But its real purpose is to try and bring some kind of coherence to a complex story and thus to create the hindsight analysis which can help us use the National Archive of Educational Computing as a storehouse for insightful & inventive design, deployment and application for the future of learning with technology.

If you want to help this venture, please sign up to support the archive or even better, tell your story.

Wrong phrases that sound right II

Ear

I blogged about this first a long time ago – people invent the phrase they think they heard, and their version has elements of ‘truth’ which are interesting:

‘without further adieu’ instead of ‘without further ado’

‘it isn’t a job for the feint hearted’ instead of ‘it isn’t a job for the faint hearted’

‘arranged eroticly’ instead of ‘arranged erratically’

‘top-draw collection’ instead of ‘top-drawer collection’

‘evil.com mascaraed as bank.com’ instead of ‘evil.com masquerading as bank.com’

‘to achieve the up-most pinnacle’ instead of ‘to achieve the utmost pinnacle’

Blu-Ray Christmas

Blu-ray disc
This was the year for me to invest in High Definition television and I decided on the Sony KDL-V3000 + Playstation 3 (PS3) – a combination Argos were doing a deal on. I wanted the PS3 anyway as the best value Blu-Ray player on the market, and the deal was extraordinary value for money. I am delighted with the outcome, surprisingly, because the sensitivity of the digital freeview tuner in the Sony TV has made terrestrial digital a possibility with weak reception. But what is really outstanding is the way standard DVDs are ‘upscaled’ to look brilliant on the combination of PS3 and Bravia display, and I still haven’t seen a Blu-Ray disc yet! The one downside is it exposes anything poorly recorded/encoded. The PS3 may also be the last moving-parts physical storage media for TV I buy – some think I am already investing in the walking dead ! Meanwhile I am enjoying finding out how The PlayStation 3 is not just a games console… too.

Ideas that can change the world

Ideas that can change the world

Went with Patrick to this excellent meeting of young and old minds. We spoke to Cameron (8) who told us his ideas for a “mp3 and mp4” player so that he wouldn’t get bored when avoiding his younger brother! It reminded me that changing the world starts small, and visions of what’s important are close to home as well as global.

Royal College of Music and Royal Ballet School collaboration

RCMJD musicians and RBS dancers

I was privileged to attend this event at the Royal Ballet School. It was performed by musicians and dancers of their own joint works. I was most impressed by the sophistication in both music and dance and the articulate way they explained their own challenges in collaboration against real deadlines in the discussion afterwards.

I could never have imagined that this was what Sasha would be confidently doing in 2007, when, ten years earlier aged 5, he set out on a musical career.

Adrian Mitchell at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Adrian Mitchell

A real pleasure to hear some outstanding poetry read by the poet in the intimate surroundings of this long-established theatre – a real credit to the town of Bolton. I am not well-read in poetry, but have come to enjoy it substantially in middle-age and Adrian’s material had me excited and tearful in short shrift. You can find him stubbornly reciting ‘Tell me lies about Vietnam’ from thirty years ago on Youtube, but this still scathing poem was scornfully delivered by an energetic 75-year old on Thursday night.